'Broodhollow': Head like a hole

It's my experience that there are some comics you shouldn't be reading past midnight on the flickering glow of your tablet. You're never more vulnerable than in that moment when the veil between reality and dreams are the most thin. As you drift off, strange images fill your mind, only intensifying to heart-palpitating levels when, say, your desktop computer suddenly powers on and wakes up from sleep mode for no reason. It's moments like this when you realize perhaps you really should have reviewed Wuffle: The Big Nice Wolf instead.

Funny thing is that despite its horror trappings, Kris Straub's Broodhollow doesn't look like the sort of webcomic that could scare a fly. It's more quirky than anything: An encyclopedia salesman finds himself living in a town where the locals have silly traditions. Characters are rendered in that recognizable Straub style, where noseless people sorta look like hedgehogs. I was a little ambivalent toward the comic after its first chapter; things pick up considerably in Chapter 2, though, with the introduction of a murder mystery.

"Angleworm" is set in the snow-covered isolation of winter. The combination of anachronistic small-town scenery surrounded by snowfalls reminded me of the TV series Fargo, and I can't help but hear plaintive violin strings in every scene. The thing about snowy landscapes is that a trail of blood becomes a minimalist work of art: a bright red-splattered streak against white that seems to lead to nowhere.

Our jumpy encyclopedia salesman Wadsworth Zane has become more acclimated; he's friends with young local, Iris Bellweather. He's also involved in a secret card-playing club with some of the most powerful people in town. Life is pretty good, expect for the horrible dreams he's been having with people's faces caved in.

One day, the dead body of Maris, one of the Bottlefly Boys, is found. Zane is put on edge, as he has a personal connection: The Bottlefly Boys were the first to welcome him into town. Almost immediately, some of the townspeople start acting strange. Resident business mogul Mr. Planchett, who had previously accused Zane of being a con man, seems to want to sweep the death under the rug as swiftly as possible. A nosy news reporter makes a sudden disappearance. Zane suspects murder, but the police are reluctant in making a statement. And then ... there are the dreams, which lead to the possibility of a sinister pananormal presence.

And yet, the story has a strong focus on community: One plot thread follows Iris as she's accepted into the town's Ladies' Auxiliary. One one hand, she's a little honored as her mom had been a member; on the other hand, she also knows that it's just a bunch of old ladies drinking tea, and nowhere near as enticing as the secret society that Zane was invited to join. However, when she goes to a meeting, she discovers the old gals are just as excited that a young woman is interested in bettering the community. Iris brings up Maris' death, and the ladies band together to create a memorial. It's as if they were roused from a years-long slumber when they realize they can be useful again. And with activity comes an affirmation of their influence: Mr. Planchett is immediately irritated, but he's powerless to combat the authoritative voice of the town's elders.

Typically, pop culture paints the gray-haired Village Green Preservation Societies of the world as being comedically inept, decrepit, or subversively evil. So it's nice to see these clubs as a force for good, with the well-being of the community first and foremost in their minds. If anything, Broodhollow is a comic that proves that being young or a newcomer isn't a barrier to entry in such organizations; in fact, they bring fresh, new energies that a lot of the old-timers cherish. An interesting perspective for a comic that made me a jumpy fraidy cat at, like, 3 in the morning.

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